UW News

December 8, 2005

New Diversity Research Institute seeks interdisciplinary collaboration

UW News

The Diversity Research Institute, a new entity on campus, is making itself known with a call for research proposals and plans for a two-day conference next spring.

Both efforts are aimed at sparking new, interdisciplinary collaborations on the UW campus in the short term, and at establishing the institute as a regional, and even national resource in the future, said David Takeuchi, professor of social work and sociology and the institute’s interim director.

The Diversity Research Institute was created through a $75,000 grant from the Office of the Provost’s Fund for Innovation and Design, and has since received $100,000 more to fund the Small Grants Program it is now beginning. The institute will seek out new forms of interdisciplinary cooperation that include not only different academic and scholarly areas working in tandem, but also greater interaction with the outside community, Takeuchi said.

Offering the example of the study of race and poverty, Takeuchi said scholars tend to focus on one or the other depending on their background, thus getting an artificially limited view of the issue. “I think we do a disservice when we continue along these lines and not see what common ground we can agree on,” he said.

Further, there are the different “academic silos,” he said, where academics and scholarship are often separated from more community and social justice issues, with one world rarely connecting with the other. Takeuchi said the Diversity Research Institute hopes to open that door, and seek out or strengthen community partnerships even as it pursues scientific research as well.

The two need not be mutually exclusive, he said. “We want to make that link — to work on community issues and also advance scientific causes. Community partnerships will lead to better research and more social change.”

He said he hopes such work with the community might one day lead to a series of classes, perhaps over a year. Takeuchi said institute organizers are excited about linking together scholarship, teaching and social justice in one area.

The call for research proposals offers up to $16,000 for “research clusters” of three or more faculty members and graduate students who will work collaboratively, with interdisciplinary collaboration a priority. “These research clusters should bring theoretical perspectives from two or more disciplines to bear on solving complex social justice problems.” The deadline for submissions is Jan 12, 2006.

To further define itself and set a course for coming work, the institute also is planning a two-day conference next April, which is tentatively titled “Place Matters: Seeking Equity in a Diverse Society.” The conference, still in the planning stages, will likely address the idea of place as it relates to people’s lives, their location and community interaction.

Sharon Sutton, a UW professor of architecture, urban design and planning, is co-chairing the conference with Susan P. Kemp, an associate professor in the School of Social Work. Sutton said she thinks the conference is “a wonderful way of talking about diversity and social justice, through the lens of place.” She said the conference hopes to explore the relationship between the understanding of place objectively, as scientists do, and understanding it subjectively or intuitively, as those in other fields might.

The institute’s interdisciplinary mission continues even in this. Sutton explained how the conference will study the idea of place not only through the quantitative and qualitative measures of science, but also through aesthetic eyes. “In university research things always tend more toward the social sciences and scientists,” Sutton said, “but we are trying to bring in the subjective, artistic and aesthetic voice as well.” Toward this end, the conference may include audio-visual or other nontraditional presentations.

Bringing together such disparate schools of thought is a challenge, she said. “It’s tough — we really see this as an aspect of diversity, being able to encompass different ways of knowing, different ways we work and understand the world.”

Sutton added that the conference is designed to spark more inquiries and collaborations. “We don’t want to come up with any one answer — we want to build relationships around topics of shared interest,” she said.

Takeuchi said he also wanted to highlight the contribution of Nancy “Rusty” Barceló, vice president and vice provost for the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, who oversees many of the UW’s efforts toward expanding diversity on campus. “Without her leadership on this, I’m not sure it would have gotten funded, or as far along,” Takeuchi said. “(Barcelo) provides the vision for a lot of these diversity issues.”

For her part, Barceló said the institute’s basic model is already being emulated on other university campuses, such as the University of California, Berkeley. Barceló said, “The Diversity Research Institute will not only serve to facilitate outstanding research on diversity and social justice that crosses disciplinary, school, department and campus borders, it will foster a community of scholars whose research and teaching will help attract and retain new scholars to the University.”

For more on the Diversity Research Institute or its Small Grants Program, visit online at: https://depts.washington.edu/divres/.